Why I Don’t Like “Grantland” Right Now

Bill Simmons is one of my favorite sportswriters, and I believe a lot of what I’ve written and said about sports has been inspired by him. However, his brainchild, the new sports and pop culture website, “Grantland,” leaves a lot to be desired.

The thing that has always made Bill Simmons great, is the fact that he has written from the fan’s point of view. He always took on (for me) the likeness of the type of fan I enjoyed talking to. Growing up just outside of Philly, I have been exposed to some people who fancy themselves football “experts” just because they sit around, get drunk, watch the Birds, and curse at whoever is playing quarterback, and bash Andy Reid for being fat and having red hair. Those types of people don’t actually know a lot about football, and they are frustrating to talk to. Reading Bill Simons, who didn’t write with the type of pretense that people like Peter King and Don Banks did, but still brought a sense of knowledgeability on topics to the table, was refreshing. Throw in the repeated pop culture references and self-depricating humor, and it was a near perfect blend of entertaining sports media.

Obviously, I am not the only person who enjoyed Bill Simmons’ work, and his popularity and creativity have ballooned into ESPN giving him the ability to develop his own project. Thus, Grantland came to be. He would bring in people who knew their stuff on sports and all things Hollywood, and it would be wonderful. It didn’t have to try to live up to the “worldwide leader,” but it would be a place where people who felt like they knew their stuff could read from other people who knew their stuff.

Bill Simmons' new venture has left me disappointed

I have no problem with that. However, I have a problem with people who evidently don’t know their stuff parading around like people who know their stuff. The Hollywood articles on the site are so mind-numbingly pretentious that it’s hard to believe that the people writing them are actually taking themselves seriously. Here’s a newsflash: Bashing the movie “Cowboys versus Aliens” and the television show “Lopez Tonight,” doesn’t make you smart, or hip, or anything. The same goes for the article on Shia LaBeouf; we all know he’s a self-absorbed clown, you didn’t need to remind us. It just makes you like everybody else. I haven’t read an article from the pop culture area of the site that hasn’t felt like it was trying to make me feel out of touch, but without providing any actual insight. The whole reason that Bill Simmons was successful at ESPN was because he wrote knowledgeably on topics, while still seeming relatable. The Hollywood writers at Grantland don’t seem the least bit relatable. Everything at that corner of the site seems condescending and unwelcoming.

The sports aspect of the site seems, if nothing else, kind of muted. This truly looks and feels like a sports website run out of an office in Los Angeles. My biggest gripe with their site right now is the use of Bill Barnwell. He seems to be their NFL specialist. I have read nothing from him that indicates he should be considered a legitimate source on anything NFL. He wrote a freee agency “winners and losers” column today. It was honestly less insightful than a horoscope. There was more depth and analysis in our predictions posts than in Barnwell’s free agency article. I bolded that, because there’s no reason that a couple of Marist College Juniors should be able to out-analyze a guy getting paid by ESPN to write about sports. I think Schwartz and I are both pretty smart dudes, and we know a decent amount about sports. But that guy’s getting paid! We still have a lot of growing and refining to do. He’s supposed to be the guy we’re learning from. We have just as much of a chance at being wrong about our predictions, but there’s no disputing that we put more thought and effort into the things we wrote than Barnwell did in his. That, in addition to his KC Joyner-esque creation of statistics that are of such little consequence that the very mention of them makes me feel like less of a sports fan, has made the NFL analysis on the site almost un-readable. Of course, there was Chuck Klosterman’s bit on how all of the Hall of Fames don’t actually exist. He rambled and rambled on, taking (I think) the stance that people who are on the fringe of the Hall of Fame, who have to get argued for every year, stand to gain more from not being in the Hall than actually being in. Whatever the hell kind of theoretical, AP English, type of crap was being pushed with that, I will never know, but it didn’t work. Maybe I just don’t get it. Like I said, maybe I’m out of touch.

If the editor-in-chief at Grantland, Mr. Simmons, could maybe help his writers in the Hollywood section of the site seem a little more down-to-earth, and possibly find somebody who actually knows something about football, to write about football, then maybe Grantland would work for me. But right now it doesn’t. There’s a mix of knowledgeability and relatability that makes Simmons great. Right now his site is far too heavy on what it assumes is knowlegability, really elevating them to the likes of people like Peter King and Don Banks who just pretend they know what they’re talking about. This site has too much confidence for something that hasn’t even justified its existence yet, and for now that will keep me from enjoying it. If nothing else, I think the site that seems to find a way to criticize everything has a real lesson to learn from Thumper, the rabbit from Bambi, who famously said: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage

HFA: 2011 AFC Predictions

I think we should have found a bigger AFC logo.

 

What’s better than a condensed NFL off-season that has all the fun of free agency packed into about three days, while training camps are starting at the same time? I’d say that it’s making premature predictions about how, what is likely to be the most unpredictable NFL season in years, will unfold. I’ve called dibs on the AFC, while Schwartz will be around later with the NFC. We’ll bring you something special for the Super Bowl prediction. However, since enough important free agents have signed for us to get a feel for who we like, it is time to start making our doomed prognostications. (Doomed Prognostications sounds like a garage band name.)

AFC South

Note: The AFC South plays the AFC North and NFC South this season

1.) Colts (11-5)

No matter what, if you’ve got 18 on your team, you’re going to win games. In addition to that, weapons like Austin Collie and Dallas Clark will be returning from injury, Joseph Addai hopefully won’t miss a nice chunk of the regular season, as well.

Strength: Weapons- The Colts, when healthy, have as much playmaking potential as any team in the league with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Dallas Clark for Peyton to throw to. All the running game has to do is be respectable and this offense is instantly one of, if not the, best in the league. It’s never been a secret that it’s hard to outscore the Colts.

Weakness: Run D- This never seems to get addressed. Yesterday they added Jamaal Anderson, former top-10 selection of the Atlanta Falcons, who was rated as the 6th DE against the run last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He has been labeled as a “bust” for his 4.5 sacks over 4 years, but that’s why they have Mathis and Freeney. Drake Nevis, the Defensive Tackle they drafted in the third round from LSU, has been brought in to try and disrupt the ball-carriers of the AFC South in the backfield. Retaining Antonio “Mookie” Johnson was key as well, as he was their most effective Defensive Tackle last season. Linebackers Gary Brackett, Pat Angerer, and Kavell Conner have talent as a corps, but have a ways to go before they are a feared unit.

Key Losses: Clint Session, LB (Jacksonville), Charlie Johnson, OT (Minnesota), Dan Muir, DT (St. Louis), Kelvin Hayden, CB (Free Agent)

Key Additions: Jamaal Anderson, DE (Atlanta)

2.) Texans (10-6)

Despite the fact that Arian Foster ran rampant over the NFL last season, Gary Kubiak’s job was in jeopardy at the end of it, simply because the Texans failed to meet the lofty expectations the media set for them. I bought into the hype last year too, and think that this year they have an even better chance of realizing it.

Strength: Offensive Playmakers- Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have become a lethal hookup by any NFL Standard, and Arian Foster turned into a defense-terrorizing monster last season. Even Jacoby Jones can be listed as an offensive playmaker, simply because of his ability to keep defenses honest, creating better opportunities for Foster to run.

Weakness: Transition- Switching to a completely different defense in a lockout-shortened off-season is not going to the Texans any favors early in the season. If this defense performs like it has the potential to, they will win double digit games this season, especially given the additions of Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning to the pass-defense, which was easily their biggest weakness last season.

Key Losses: Vonta Leach, FB (Baltimore)

Key Additions: Jonathan Joseph, CB (Cincinnati), Danieal Manning (Chicago)

3.) Jaguars (6-10)

Not buying the hype. Defense, though needing to be addressed, was not what kept the Jags from being real contenders last year. They still don’t have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to support Maurice Jones-Drew. Mike Sims-Walker was hit or miss at best, and they didn’t even bring him back. Mike Thomas had a good season last year, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to have a ton of help on the other side. Marcedes Lewis will have a lot of catches this season.

Strength: Running Game- Maurice Jones-Drew doesn’t need to be explained. The Jaguars run the ball really well, and he’s the reason they do.

Weakness: Passing Game- David Garrard has always been a decent quarterback, with nobody of great merit to throw the ball to. Nothing much has changed. They drafted Blaine Gabbert, who will only make the situation more tenuous, because Garrard screw-ups will now be followed by chants for Blaine.

Key Losses: Mike Sims-Walker, WR (St. Louis), Justin Durant, LB (Detroit)

Key Additions: Dajuan Landry, S (Baltimore), Paul Posluszny, LB (Buffalo), Clint Session, LB (Indianapolis)

4.) Titans (5-11)

They just really don’t have anything going for them. Their biggest off-season addition was Matt Hasselbeck, who, over the last two seasons has thrown far more interceptions than he has touchdowns. Kenny Britt might not even be allowed in the country by the time the season starts, if he keeps this pace, and they lost two of the strongest members of their defense in Stephen Tulloch and Jason Babin. Oh yeah, their best player is currently planning to sit out for the long-haul as well. Not a good sign.

Key Losses: Stephen Tulloch, LB (Detroit), Jason Babin, DE (Philadelphia), Vince Young, QB (Philadelphia)

Key Additions: Matt Hasselbeck, QB (Seattle), Daniel Graham, TE (Denver)

 

AFC West

Note: The AFC West plays the NFC North and AFC East this season

1.) Chiefs (10-6)

The Chiefs kept all the key pieces to the puzzle that won the AFC West last year in place. Jamaal Charles emerged as one of the biggest big-play threats in the NFL, while being complimented nicely by Thomas Jones. They have added pieces at WR, Steve Breaston and rookie Jonathan Baldwin to help increase Matt Cassel’s options. What was one of the most talented young defenses in the NFL, will have another year of experience under its belt, ready to shut down the attacks of the AFC West.

Strength: Ground Game- Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones, and a quality O-Line are a recipe for disaster for any AFC West team that thinks the Chiefs’ run last year was a fluke.

Weakness: Depth in Passing Game- We will see how Breaston and Baldwin can help Cassel in the passing game, but right now this is still something that needs to be seen to be believed in KC.

Key Losses: Mike Vrabal, LB (Retirement), Brian Waters, G (Free Agent)

Key Additions: Steve Breaston, WR (Arizona), Kelley Gregg, DT (Baltimore), Brandon Siler, LB (San Diego)

2.) Chargers (8-8)

I’m never really into the Chargers kool-aid, I’m never really into the Norv Turner kool-aid, and I just don’t see how they got better this off-season. Honestly, I think I’m being generous at 8-8. If nothing else, their signing of Takeo Spikes should guarantee that they won’t make the playoffs, as he is cursed.

Strength: Passing Game- Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, etc. They throw the ball about as well as any team in the league, and even missing the playoffs last year they had one of the strongest offenses in the NFL.

Weakness: Running Game- Ryan Mathews couldn’t stay healthy (or play well, for that matter) last year, Mike Tolbert isn’t exactly a game changer, and they lost Darren Sproles in free agency.

Key Losses: Brandon Siler, LB (Kansas City), Kevin Burnett, LB (Miami), Malcolm Floyd, WR (Free Agency), Darren Sproles, RB (New Orleans)

Key Additions: Takeo Spikes, LB (San Francisco)

3.) Denver Broncos (7-9)

At least the Broncos have made an effort to look like they care about the fact that they finished with the 2nd-worst record in the NFL last season. Though, I will always find it amusing that the team that finished with the 2nd-worst record, signed the guy who coached the team with the worst record to be their head coach. I know it’s deeper than that, but the issue itself is pretty entertaining at face value. Getting Elvis Dumervil back is going to be huge for the Broncos. Adding Von Miller to the mix is going to make their pass-rush something to watch. There’s no way their D is as bad as it was last year. Willis McGahee should help Knowshon Moreno to spice up the running game. And, as long as the front office hangs on to Kyle Orton for this season, there’s a chance that the passing game can remain potent as well.

Strength: Pass Defense- Elvis Dumervil was one of the most feared pass-rushers in the NFL before he tore a pectoral muscle last season. If he is 100% (and we haven’t heard anything to indicate that he isn’t) he immediately strengthens the entire defense. Von Miller should help immediately, as well. Whoever draws double-teams creates opportunities for the other. And don’t forget Champ Bailey.

Key Losses: Daniel Graham, TE (Tennessee), Jabar Gaffney, WR (Washington)

Key Additions: Brodrick Bunkley, DT (Philadelphia), Willis McGahee, RB (Baltimore)

 

4.) Oakland Raiders (6-10)

They lost their best player, and potentially their 2nd-best player…they signed Trent Edwards.

Key Losses: Nnamdi Asomugah, CB (Philadelphia), Zach Miller, TE (Free Agency)

Key Additions: Trent Edwards, QB (Jacksonville)…because I had to put somebody in here.

AFC East

Note: The AFC East plays the NFC East and AFC West this year.

1.) New England Patriots (12-4)

We have been given no reason to believe that Bill Bellichick is taking last year’s one-and-done playoff run lightly. This is a Patriots team that has not won a playoff game since my Junior year of high school (I’m about to be a Junior in college.) However, if nothing else, the Ochocinco and Haynesworth adds show that they are willing to make a splash (if Randy Moss a few years ago didn’t say it, what does?) They should be able to do a lot of the same things they were able to do on offense last year, if not more. They’ve shown they can run the ball with anybody, and they’ve got more than enough weapons to throw to. On defense, I’d like to see who’s going to run on a newly minted 4-3 defense that features Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork in the middle, and Jerod Meyo at MLB just in case you make it to the linebackers.

Strength: Can’t Pick Just One- Passing Offense and Coaching- You’ve got one of the two best QBs in the NFL and one of the best coaches of all time. You’re going to win games with that every time.

Weakness: Defensive End depth- They don’t really have anybody at DE besides Gerard Warren.

Key Losses: Ty Warren, DE (Free Agency)

Key Additions: Chad Ochocinco, WR (Cincinnati), Albert Haynesworth, DT (Washington)

2.) New York Jets (11-5)

They didn’t get any worse, they just didn’t get Nnamdi. The biggest off-season addition for the Jets is adding Tom Moore to the coaching staff. This is the guy who developed Peyton Manning into the machine he is today. If there’s anybody who can make Mark Sanchez worth his weight in gold, it’s Tom Moore. Adding Plax is a nice touch for them as well, but I believe this team won’t miss a beat. It kills me to say it, because I hate them, but they’re legitimate.

Strength: Defense/Mind-Games- They play great defense, they’ll have Revis and Cromartie back at it again, and they do a better job than just about anybody, of getting into the opposition’s head. You can go ahead and credit Rex Ryan for that.

Weakness: Quarterback- Mark Sanchez is far too inconsistent to be considered a reliable option at QB. He has been provided great targets to throw to, but he often misses and causes turnovers. He can be good, but he needs to be a lot better.

Key Losses: Brad Smith, WR (Buffalo), Braylon Edwards, WR (Free Agency),

Key Additions: Plaxico Burress, WR (Prison), Chris Bryan, P (Australia)

3.) Buffalo Bills (9-7)

The Bills lost a lot of close games last season, and towards the end of the year, they really started to gel as a unit, and looked like they could be a handful if they made the right off-season moves. Well, I really believe they’ve made the right off-season moves. They weren’t able to hang on to Paul Posluszny, but they have made some key additions, including drafting Marcell Dareus, that I believe make them a real candidate to finish over .500 this season.

Strength: Coaching- I love Chan Gailey and I think his creativity and innovation are going to lead to a lot of production from the Bills’ offense this season. They’ve got Brad Smith listed as a QB, Stevie Johnson emerged as a playmaker, Tyler Thigpen can pass and catch. This team can do a lot of stuff, and it’s not all gimmicky.

Weakness: Underdeveloped- The team is probably still a year away from making real noise, but I think that they’re going to be a lot better than people are giving them credit for this season.

Key Losses: Paul Posluszny, LB (Jacksonville)

Key Additions: Brad Smith, QB (New York Jets), Tyler Thigpen, QB (Miami), Nick Barnett, LB (Green Bay)

4.) Miami Dolphins (6-10)

I drank the Miami kool-aid last season, and I’m not falling for it again. Chad Henne is not an NFL starting quarterback, but they’re going to try and make the world believe he is. Reggie Bush was a nice touch, but they’re going to need somebody who can carry the bulk of the load, and I don’t know who that’s going to be. There’s not really anybody out there who looks like they can be the horse for the fish. The defense didn’t really get any better, either.  I think we may see some heads roll in Miami this year.

Strengths: Weapons- Reggie Bush and Brandon Marhsall do create weapons for Chad Henne, I just strongly doubt his ability to utilize them properly.

Weaknesses: Defense- I haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe that the Dolphins can stop anybody from doing anything.

Key Additions: Reggie Bush, RB (New Orleans), Marc Colombo, T (Cowboys)

Key Losses: Ronnie Brown, RB (Free Agency…still could re-sign, but I don’t think he’ll help either way), Ricky Williams, RB (See: Ronnie Brown)

AFC North

Note: The AFC North plays the AFC South and NFC West this season

1.) Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

The Ravens like to pound the rock. The Ravens added Vonta Leach. There are few players in the league who better help to pound the rock than Vonta. A strong defense stays largely in-tact, and the Ravens had a strong draft, I think they got better than Pittsburgh this off-season. They cut some guys who didn’t really serve a purpose anymore in Derrick Mason and Todd Heap (he was hurt too much,) and a guy like Kelley Gregg who was pretty much pushed out by Haloti Ngata. I think they will capitalize on the moves they made this off-season and take the lead in the AFC North.

Strength: Physicality- They can run, they can beat you up when you try to run, and you have to respect the run, because they can throw. Dangerous combination. Vonta Leach was a perfect fit for them, an immediate upgrade over an already quality LeRon McClain.

Weakness: Passing Game- Joe Flacco just needs to step up a little bit more. They can pass well enough for teams to respect the run, but nobody’s altering their game-plan because they’re worried about what Joe Flacco is going to do to them. If they can get to that stage, they will be near-impossible to stop.

Key Losses: Derrick Mason, WR (Free Agency), Todd Heap, TE (Arizona), Kelley Gregg, DT (Kansas City)

Key Additions: Vonta Leach, FB (Houston)

2.) Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)

This may not be completely rational, but I don’t get a good vibe from the Steelers right now. They lost Max Starks and Flozell Adams, who helped them do what they were best at doing. James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, Hines Ward are all doing things negatively off the field. Ben Roethlisberger settled down. I mean, what can we believe in anymore?! Add all of this to the Super Bowl Loser’s Curse, and this seems like a recipe for disaster. I think I’m being nice at 10-6.

Strengths: They can still kick your butt. They are the most intimidating team in the NFL defensively, and anybody who disagrees just really doesn’t watch football.

Weakness: Secondary- They are not very effective against the pass, and nobody highlighted that more than Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl. Obviously, it’s hard to look good against Aaron Rodgers, but the Steelers secondary struggled to look good at all last season.

Key Losses: Max Starks, T (Free Agency), Flozell Adams, T (Free Agency)

Key Additions: Nobody yet.

3.) Cleveland Browns (9-7)

The Browns haven’t made a lot of noise in free agency, but I don’t really know if they had to. They could stand to surround Colt with another target to really solidfy the passing attack, but I think the Browns should be happy with the way their roster looks right now. The only significant loss they had this off-season was Eric Wright heading to Detroit, and that’s not earth shattering. This is a team that was one of two losses for the New England Patriots in the regular season, and a team that beat the defending Super Bowl Champions. Those were both in games where Colt McCoy started, but did not play especially well. I think with the experience he gained last year, he will help be a contributing factor to increased Browns success this year.

Strengths: Running Game- Peyton Hillis destroyed people last year, and unless the Madden Curse stops him, I don’t think anybody else will. That offensive line is no joke, and he will keep running behind them, making Josh McDaniels look like a buffoon every step of the way.

Weakness: Defense- They still need to solidify a couple different areas on defense, and one of them was the defensive line. Phil Taylor was a nice addition through the draft, but I don’t think we’re going to see an immediate impact from the minimal additions made by the Browns this off-season. They may be able to score a lot, but I don’t think that defense is going to help them very much. Their best bet is to chew up as much time running the ball down the field, which I fully expect them to do.

Key Additions: Brandon Jackson, RB (Packers)

Key Losses: Eric Wright, CB (Detroit)

4.) Cincinnati Bengals, (3-13)

They really didn’t do anything to get better this off-season. Nate Clements is a decent addition, but he’s a significant downgrade from Jonathan Joseph. Carson Palmer is taking his ball and going home (I don’t like Andy Dalton or Bruce Gradkowski), and Chad Ochocino and Terrell Owens are both gone. They may get Cedric Benson back, but other than that, they have no real focal point on offense, and their defense isn’t much, if any better.

Strengths: None.

Weakness: Too Many.

Key Additions: Nate Clements, CB (San Francisco)

Key Losses: Chad Ochocinco, WR (Patriots), Carson Palmer, QB (Retirement), Terrell Owens, WR (Free Agency), Cedric Benson, RB (Free Agency)

Playoffs

1. New England

2. Baltimore

3. Indianapolis

4. Kansas City

5. New York Jets

6. Houston Texans

Wild Card Round

Indianapolis over Houston

Kansas City over New York

Divisional Round

New England over Kansas City

Baltimore over Indianapolis

AFC Championship

Baltimore over New England

Awards:

Offensive Player of the Year: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City

Defensive Player of the Year: Mario Williams, OLB, Houston

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Sense of the MLB Trade Deadline

Whoa. Ok. That was a lot of movement. Between the new players on new teams in the NFL and now MLB, my head is spinning.

Naturally, when there is any sort of mass player movement in any of the major sports leagues in the United States, we must pick ourselves some winners and losers. So, why should we be any different?

We will break this down into three categories: winners, losers and those in limbo. That’s right. You came for two, and we’re giving you a third on top of that. Take that, ESPN!

WINNERS:

Texas Rangers:

-Acquired RP Koji Uehara from BAL for SP Tommy Hunter and 1B Chris Davis

-Acquired RP Mike Adams from SD for 2 pitching prospects

The Texas Rangers are the best team in the American League not playing in the East. They had a clear weakness on their ballclub: the bullpen. They can mash with the best of them and they have solid starting pitching thanks to All-Stars C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando. However, their bullpen ranked 11th in the league and outside of Arthur Rhodes, the unit was under-performing.

One American League official went as far to say that if the Rangers were able to trade for Uehara (1.71 ERA, 62 Ks in 47.0 innings), they would play in the World Series. Ok, maybe that guy got ahead of himself. But, the Rangers did pick up the most dominate reliever available for their eighth inning, then got Mike Adams (1.13 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 49 Ks in 48.0 innings) to shorten the game even more. Starters need only to go six innings with Adams, Uehara and Neftali Feliz to round out the ‘pen.

The Rangers did part with a youthful arm in Tommy Hunter (13 wins as a 23-year old in 2010), but the team had given up on fixing Chris Davis (24 Ks in 76 at bats this season). As for the pitching prospects, they weren’t the best the team had to offer, which is always good to hear from an organizational stand point. The Texas Rangers had the best deadline, dare I say.

New York Mets:

-Acquired two players to be named later from MIL for RP Francisco Rodriguez

-Acquired SP Zack Wheeler from SF for OF Carlos Beltran

Whoa! Before you go calling me a homer, understand something. First, the Mets escaped from what was going to become a vesting option of $17.5 million to Francisco Rodriguez if he finished 55 games this season. Emphasis on finished. He could’ve lost 55 games this year and it wouldn’t have mattered, the option would’ve kicked. All he had to do was be the last pitcher to appear in the game. Literally, my grandmothers could be the players to be named later in that deal with Milwaukee, and it won’t matter. That money is going right to Jose Reyes, thankfully.

Second, you need to realize that had the Mets held onto Carlos Beltran, they would not have been able to offer him salary arbitration. In fancy talk, that means the Mets wouldn’t have gotten any draft pick compensation for Beltran had he left in free agency. He would qualify as a Type A free agent, which normally means the team that signs him surrenders their first round pick to the Mets, plus a compensation pick at the end of the first round. But, none of that would’ve gone to the Mets due to a loophole in his contract (damn you, Scott Boars!).

Third, while the Mets had offers from teams to either A) bring home a truck of B-level prospects, B) pay off Beltran’s remaining $6 million+ or C) both, Sandy Alderson and company held firm on getting the best available player they could. And, you know what? They did just that. Wheeler was the Giants’ best pitching prospect (out of a system that has produced Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, among others) and Baseball America had recently rated Wheeler as high as 35th out of all prospects in baseball. Wheeler immediately slots into one of the top four Mets pitching prospect slots (along with Matt Harvey, Jenrry Meija and Jeurys Familia) and projects to be a power, top-rotation type pitcher.

Getting value for Beltran was key for Alderson. He accomplished that, and that makes the Mets winners at the deadline even though they probably aren’t competing for a playoff spot. Hooray!

Houston Astros:

-Acquired OF Jordan Schafer and 3 pitching prospects from ATL for OF Michael Bourn and cash

-Acquired SP Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton and 2 prospects from PHI for OF Hunter Pence

Alright, another team that isn’t competing for a playoff spot. You think I’m crazy. Hey, you may be right. But, you need to look long-term here.

Remember, the Astros are stuck in the king of rebuilding projects and have a new owner coming into office. They need a franchise makeover. Does it hurt to trade away the face of the franchise and the one productive player on the team? Absolutely.

But, what does that say about your franchise if Hunter Pence is your keystone guy? Is he a good player? Absolutely. Should he be the best player on your team? No way.

In Cosart and Singleton, the Astros got the Phillies two best prospects not named Dominic Brown. That’s a win right there. From the Braves, they got 3 pitchers that project into productive parts, but not necessarily stars. However, they sold Bourn when his stock was highest, so that should be commended.

San Francisco Giants:

-Acquired OF Carlos Beltran from NYM for SP Zack Wheeler

-Acquired INF Orlando Cabrera from CLE for player to be named later

We already covered the Beltran trade from the Mets angle. The Giants angle is a lot easier to understand. They needed immediate pop in the middle of their order. Well, that’s Beltran.

What I love even more is the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera. This man IS playoff baseball. I understand the Indians traded him because their second baseman of the future has been playing well, but Cabrera is a lock to make the playoffs on whatever team he is on. I don’t know why, it’s just the truth. Expect Cabrera to play the 2010 Edgar Renteria role on this team.

Oh, and by the way, remember that it was Renteria who was named World Series MVP last year.

Team that went in the right direction, but didn’t impress: Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks

LOSERS:

New York Yankees:

-No major acquisitions

Absorb that sentence for a little bit, Yankee fans. Your general manager has pretty much informed you that he feels the mix of Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes will be good enough for a long run in the October. To me, that seems a little bit optimistic. And by optimistic, I mean delusional.

This team needed a starting pitcher in the worst way. C.C. Sabathia would be the likely Cy Young Award winner for the American League if Justin Verlander didn’t exist. But, after him, A.J. Burnett? And that’s really all you can trust? Wait, we’re trusting A.J. Burnett now? Oh, brother.

Hey, in their defense, it’s not like the Yankees didn’t try. They really wanted Hiroki Kuroda, but he refused to waive his no-trade clause and chose to stay in Los Angeles. They tried to get Ubaldo Jiminez (I’m not done with him) from Colorado before the Indians package trumped the Yankees. And, its not like the Red Sox and the Rays broke the bank in their trades either. But, the Red Sox did improve their rotation (Erik Bedard) and they added infield depth (Mike Aviles).

The Yankees didn’t do anything, and that hurts.

Cleveland Indians:

Acquired SP Ubaldo Jiminez from COL for SP Drew Pomeranz, SP Alex White and 3 prospects

-Acquired OF Kosuke Fukudome from CHI for 2 prospects

-Acquired a player to be named later from SF for INF Orlando Cabrera

The Cleveland Indians feel that they are in the thick of the race for the AL Central. And, less than three games out of first certainly means they are in the race. The Twins held firm at the deadline, the White Sox appeared to be sellers, and the Detroit Tigers added a nice piece in SP Doug Fister, but he doesn’t necessarily put them over the edge.

So, kudos to the Indians for putting in the effort to try and win this division. Now, time for my problems with both of these trades. Starting with Fukudome.

Ok, I understand their offense needed a bit of an upgrade. Not a full upgrade like the Giants needed, but enough of one where the Indians offered to pay Beltran’s entire remaining salary to the Mets plus prospects. So, why did they go after a guy that is ranked behind the likes of Ryan Theriot and Brian Schneider in terms of his career production rate on BaseballReference.com? Fukudome’s beautiful triple slash (average/on-base/slugging) for 2011? .273/.374/.369

Yikes. Not sure where I should be seeing an upgrade. Luckily, I’m not overly impressed with the prospects they gave up for the aging outfielder. So there’s that.

But, believe it or not, I had a bigger problem with their trade for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jiminez. In his first 16 decisions of 2010, Jiminez went 15-1 and looked like the shoe-in for NL Cy Young. Since then, however, Jiminez has gone 10-17. This year, he sat at 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA, a far cry from his 2.88 in 2010, and that was even lower in the first half of 2010.

Furthermore, does anybody else find it strange that the Rockies were so quick to trade Ubaldo Jiminez? He’s under team control until 2014, and its not like the Rockies are cheap when it comes to locking down their home grown talent (see: Tulowitzki, Troy and Gonzalez, Carlos). So, I smell something that the Rockies are seeing that maybe the Indians are not. The shine on Jiminez seems to be fading in the sense that Francisco Liriano is not the pitcher we all thought he’d be, either.

Also, the Rockies made out like bandits here. They acquired two of the Indians last three first round picks (Pomeranz and White). In fact, those two picks were both Top-10 selections. Pomeranz was such a recent selection that you see his name in the transaction column as “player to be named later” because the Indians aren’t allowed to trade him since he hasn’t been a member of the organization for a full calender year yet.

The Rockies are exceptionally good at rebuilding on the fly. They now have two controllable power arms that may be ready by next year or 2013. And the Indians? They traded for the market’s largest questionmark. You can be aggressive to a fault at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, that’s what the Indians were.

San Diego Padres:

-Acquired a prospect from PIT for OF Ryan Ludwick

-Acquired two prospects from TEX for RP Mike Adams

Ok, the Padres got the most out of what they could for the players they traded. The problem in San Diego is more of who they didn’t trade: closer Heath Bell.

Bell is a very good closer and a huge fan favorite in San Diego (as he was at Shea Stadium when he was the conductor of the old Norfolk Shuttle). But, the Padres probably did themselves a disservice by not trading him away. This was the highest his trade value would ever be, and now the team has put themselves in a situation where they will have to pay the big bucks to keep their stopper long-term.

Now, hindsight is always 20-20. This non-move could turn out to be great for the franchise. But, I honestly do not like it when teams invest in relievers not named Rivera. So, I will let this one play out a little bit. I just don’t understand why a team in full fledged rebuild mode wouldn’t move their most valuable asset that could be replaced rather quickly from within.

Other teams that disappointed, but not as poorly: Oakland A’s, Washington Nationals

Teams in Limbo

Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals:

Basically I group all three teams together because they conducted the largest, craziest trade of the deadline period. Stay with me here:

White Sox acquired RP Jason Frasor and SP Zach Stewart from the Blue Jays

Blue Jays acquired INF Mark Teahan from the White Sox, OF Colby Rasmus, SP Brian Tallet, RP Trevor Miller and RP P.J. Walters from the Cardinals

Cardinals acquired SP Edwin Jackson from White Sox, RP Octavio Dotel, RP Marc Rzepczynski, OF Corey Patterson and three players to be named later from Blue Jays

Have you digested all that? So, how do three teams conduct a huge trade and seemingly stay in the same place they were pre-trade? I’ll explain.

For the White Sox, General Manager Kenny Williams just confuses me to no end. When the team should be sellers, he buys. When the team should be buyers, he sells. He gave Adam Dunn a four-year contract when no team was willing to go more than two. He picked up Alexis Rios from the Blue Jays when the team was bound to release him anyway. I don’t get it.

Edwin Jackson was having a good year, and the White Sox did well to sell him when his value was high because Jackson has been an up-and-down talent his entire career, hence why he’s played for six teams in eight years. Mostly, the White Sox stay in limbo with this trade because while Zach Stewart is a promising pitching prospect from Toronto, he is no Daniel Hudson, who is the player the White Sox traded to get Jackson in the first place.

For the Blue Jays, I think I understand this trade. I think. The big prize they picked up is OF Colby Rasmus, who was once one of the best prospects in all of baseball while he was maturing in the St. Louis farm system. He hit .276 with 23 home runs for the Cardinals in 2010 as a 23-year old, but has been marred in a season-long slump in 2011, dipping his average to .240 with only 11 home runs. Apparently, Rasmus wore out his welcome with manager Tony LaRussa for seeking outside help for his hitting woes, which is a no-no for the Cardinals. When push came to shove, the team stuck with management and not Rasmus.

 However, he’s still young (24). He could easily figure out this funk and blossom into the well-rounded centerfielder experts had predicted he’d become. Here’s my problem with the trade: the Blue Jays didn’t need the help with their offense.

In the American League East, you will not win with a powerful line-up. Look at the Rays. Their line-up is below average for the American League, but they’re constantly competitive in the East because they have pitching depth very few other teams have. The Blue Jays dealt Stewart, one of their better pitching prospects, to get Jackson who enabled them to get Rasmus. In their system, they still have Kyle Drabek, their prize in the Roy Halladay trade. But, he struggled in his first stint of Major League action. The Jays will need a massive amount of pitching to catch up to the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. I don’t see how this trade helps them, at all, in the long run.

Lastly, for the Cardinals, here’s why I don’t quite get it. I believe they are a team that has become in love with the notion that pitching coach Dave Duncan can fix any pitching problem. Edwin Jackson shows flashes of brilliance, and the Cardinals will try to harness those flashes into sustained excellence. And with Duncan’s track record, that very well could happen.

The team’s biggest hole was at shortstop, which they feel they answered by acquiring Rafael Furcal from the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, we will see if Furcal can stay healthy for any long period of time to actually help the team. They felt they could afford to trade Rasmus now because Lance Berkman has played so well in right field, and Jon Jay has exceeded expectations from all outfield positions.

My problem with this deal really comes back to Rasmus. I feel the team gave up on him much too early. He was their youngest player starting every day and, more importantly, was under team control on the cheap for at least another two years. With Albert Pujols soon to get a new contract, cheap, reliable talent is a major point of salary relief the team will need. Jon Jay has hit over .300 in his 600+ Major League at-bats thus far in his career. But, is he really your long-term centerfielder in St. Louis? I’m just not certain.

For me, the Cardinals will have to show me they have a viable solution in center before I move them out of limbo.

Other teams who tried to improve, and may have improved, but didn’t impress: Pittsburgh Pirates

Why I Love Writing About Sports

This won’t cover anything recent, other than the movie “Midnight in Paris,” which I just got back from seeing, and has inspired this current post. The movie was great, and I highly recommend anybody who loves to write about anything to go see it. If Owen Wilson’s character doesn’t inspire you to write about what you love, and something that means something to you, then you’ve died inside. You have.

In the movie, Wilson plays a self-proclaimed “Hollywood hack” who makes a lot of money writing unfulfilling scripts. He’s engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams) who has the loving touch of a sea urchin, and has superficial caricatures for parents. Wilson, seeking to fulfill his urge to be a “real writer” has taken his novel to Paris with the family (tagging along with Inez’s father on a business trip) for inspiration. After a drunken midnight stroll throughout the city, Wilson gets into a car that takes him back to Paris in the 1920s, where he hangs out with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other famous artists of the day. He keeps going back to the same spot, and at midnight, continues on these adventures, continuing to be inspired, and polishing his book into a real work of art. The book itself is about a man who works in a nostalgia shop, questioning his place in the universe, and really capitalizes on the “golden age” idea that gets highlighted throughout the film; the idea that people will always feel like they belonged in a different era, because the present just isn’t that fulfilling. What does any of this have to do with sports? Well, in the grand scheme of things, not a ton, but to me specifically, everything.

In the film, Ernest Hemingway (played wonderfully by Corey Stoll) says “No subject is terrible if the story is true and if the prose is clean and honest.” To anyone who wants to be a writer, that quote should hang above your computer, your notepad, or whatever it is you write on. I think that people get lost trying to be gregarious with their storytelling, and lose the substance of the story by trying to impress people with their vocabulary. This is never more true with sports, where it is incredibly important for the prose to be “clean and honest.” We’re writing about largely open-ended events that are quantified by statistics that we invent to give them meaning.

Corey Stoll's Ernest Hemingway, bottle in hand

Nobody writes about playing catch, because nobody wins a game of catch. Nobody writes about playing catch, because nobody set any records playing a game of catch. Sports are about results; wins, losses, championships won, yards gained, innings-pitched, etc. But really, sports are just people on a field of play, playing a game, and at the end, the rules we invented determine these wins and losses. Naturally, this warrants explanation, and that’s where we (the people who write about sports) come in. We explain how we got from point A (the game) to point B (the results.) Not simply that the guy threw the ball, but how his throwing of the ball led his team to victory. We find aspects of the game that specifically can be attributed to the results that come out of it, and explain (to the best of our abilities) how.

Does sports history exist without sports-writers? No. We are the record keepers for sports history. We place events in sports that happen every day into the historical context that has been created by those who wrote about sports before us. There is no debate about Peyton Manning vs Joe Montana vs Tom Brady if nobody writes about sports; if there’s nobody to tell the stories that come out of these games.

We create the demons that these guys overcome. We make Quarterback X a playoff choker and we make Point Guard X a stone-cold assassin, who thrives under pressure. There is none of this if nobody watches, records, and analyzes the results of these games, and creates a context and a plot for a story to be told. LeBron James losing in the Finals means nothing if nobody writes about it, if nobody wrote about The Decision, if nobody wrote about him at St. Vincent St. Mary’s. Without sports writers we just have games that mean nothing.

This is why I think it’s great to write about anything you love. Writing about a subject, any subject, gives you the ability to attribute meaning to something you care about. Without writers, there’s nobody to attribute meaning to anything, or at least nobody to record those meanings. That is why Hemingway’s words should be gospel. Keep your stories true, clean, and honest. Analyze what you see, record events, and for the sake of all that is good in the world, keep writing.

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage

Ah Summer- the College World Series

For the 67th time, the NCAA will hold the College World Series, but this time, it’s in the brand new TD Ameritrade Park. But don’t worry, it’s still in Omaha, Nebraska.

Rosenblatt may be gone, but its memory lives on as host to some of the best baseball around, a rich history. Those lucky enough to attend a game at Rosenblatt love the atmosphere and the history, where guys like Terry Francona, Larry Walker, Pat Burrell and Rod Dedeuax roamed.

College baseball has seen a slight rise of popularity in the past decade, due mostly to expanded media coverage and more money for programs. More athletes are recognized in the college ranks in the baseball world, primarily through the College World Series. Plenty of ball players are still drafted out of high school, skipping college, but more are going to school. This year has no shortage of potential talent, and excellent pitching.

The 2011 College World Series should be a part of your summer sports television lineup, if it wasn’t already. 3 North Carolina, 6 Vanderbilt, 2 Florida, 7 Texas, Cal, 1 Virginia, 4 South Carolina, and Texas A&M are the World Series teams, a mix of blue bloods and newcomers. Virginia, the #1 national seed cruised through the regionals and super regionals, while Cal, a sleeper team from the Pac 10, took over the Houston regional and beat Dallas Baptist for a spot. Every team is a one seed, except for Cal, but many are new to the college post season. The CWS is double elimination in bracket play, and then a best of three championship series.

North Carolina Tar Heels
2011 Record: 50-14, 20-10 in ACC, 3rd in the ACC Coastal Division
Hosted and won both the Chapel Hill Regional and Super Regional
CWS Appearances: 9 (1960, 1966, 1978, 1989, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011)
CWS Titles: 0
MLB Notables: Dustin Ackley, BJ Surhoff, Chris Ianetta
Drafted Players: SS Levi Michael (Twins 30th), RHP Greg Holt (National 247th)
Batting Leaders: BA- .335 Colin Moran (FR, IF), HR- 9 Colin Moran (FR, IF), RBI- 69 Colin Moran (FR, IF)
Pitching Leaders: W- 13-1 Patrick Johnson (SR, RHP), ERA- 2.27 Patrick Johnson (SR, RHP), K- 120 Patrick Johnson (SR, RHP)
Young team with excellent pitching, defense carried the Tar Heels for the most of the season and has been instrumental in their CWS run. Their offense is nothing to scoff at, young bats will have to step up in the first game against Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt Commodores
2011 Record: 52-10, 22-8 in SEC, 3rd in the SEC Eastern Division
Hosted and won both the Nashville Regional and Super Regional
CWS Appearances: 1 (2011) CWS Titles: 0
MLB Notables: David Price, Pedro Alvarez, Mike Minor
Drafted Players: RHP Sonny Gray (A’s 18th), LHP Grayson Garvin (57th Rays), 3B Jason Esposito (64th Orioles), RHP Jack Armstrong (99th Astros), 1B Aaron Westlake (106th Tigers), LHP Corey Williams (117th Twins), RHP David Hill (187th Nationals), RHP Mark Lamm (206th Braves), C Curtis Casali (317th Tigers), RHP Navery Moore (446th Braves), RHP William Clinard (928th Twins), OF Joseph Loftus (1384th Diamondbacks)
Batting Leaders: BA- .357 Jason Esposito (JR, IF), HR- 17 Aaron Westlake (JR, 1B), RBI- 59 Jason Esposito (JR, IF)
Pitching Leaders: W- 13-1 Grayson Garvin (JR, LHP), ERA- 1.21 Navery Moore (JR, RHP), K- 119 Sonny Gray (JR, RHP)
All-around solid ball club with two big time starters and an excellent pitching depth. Offense is powered by Westlake and Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson Mike Yastrzemski, especially in the postseason. If their pitching is on target, look for Vandy to excel in the CWS, starting in the first game against UNC.

Florida Gators
2011 Record: 50-17, 22-8 in SEC, 2nd in the SEC Eastern Division
Hosted and won both the Gainseville Regional and Super Regional
CWS Appearances: 7 (1988, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2011) CWS Titles: 0
MLB Notables: David Eckstein, Mark Ellis, Matt LaPorta, Al Rosen
Drafted Players: LHP Nick Maronde (104th Angels), RHP Anthony DeSclafani (199th Blue Jays), LHP Alex Panteliodis (282nd Mets), RHP Thomas Toledo (341st Brewers), 1B Preston Tucker (498th Rockies), C Ben McMahan (701st Brewers), RHP Matt Campbell (751st Phillies), CF Tyler Thompson (1387th Nationals)
Batting Leaders: BA- .376 Mike Zunino (SO, C), HR- 18 Mike Zunino (SO, C), RBI- 68 Preston Tucker (JR, UTL)
Pitching Leaders: W- 10-3 Hudson Randall (SO, RHP), ERA- 1.72 Steven Rodriguez (SO, LHP), K- 83 Karsten Whitson (FR, RHP)
Always a strong unit, the Gators rely more on offense, but have above average pitching. The entire staff goes through ups and downs, which could hurt in a very defensive CWS. Keep and eye on freshman RHP Karsten Whitson, drafted early 1st round last year but opted to go to school, whose stuff is filthy. They start the CWS against Texas

Texas Longhorns
2011 Record: 49-17, 19-8 in Big XII, Conference Champions
Hosted and won both the Austin Regional and Super Regional
CWS Appearances: 34 (1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1993, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2011) CWS Titles: 6 (1949, 1950, 1975, 1983, 2002, 2005)
MLB Notables: Roger Clemens, Huston Street, Drew Stubbs
Drafted Players: RHP Taylor Jungmann (12th Brewers), LHP Sam Stafford (88th Yankees), SS Brandon Loy (167th Tigers), RHP Cole Green (295th Reds), LHP Andrew McKirahan (639th Cubs), 1B Tant Shepherd (732rd Mets), RHP Kevin Dicharry (1261st Phillies), C Kevin Lusson (1380th Rays)
Batting Leaders: BA- .358 Erich Weiss (FR, IF), HR- 5 Tant Shepherd (SR, IF), RBI- 44 Erich Weiss (FR, IF)
Pitching Leaders: W- 13-2 Taylor Jungmann (JR, RHP), ERA- 1.15 Corey Knebel (FR, RHP), K- 123 Taylor Jungmann (JR, RHP)
Texas has been plagued by the new college bats, in a power drought, but the pitching staff is one of their best of all time. Jungmann is a star, and the other starters are winners. Pitching will determine how far Texas can go, starting with Florida.

Cal Bears
2011 Record: 37-21, 13-13 in Pac 10, 6th in the Pac 10
3 seed won the Fort Worth Regional and the Santa Clara Super Regional
CWS Appearances: 6 (1947, 1957, 1980, 1988, 1992, 2011) CWS Titles: 2 (1947, 1957)
MLB Notables: Jeff Kent, Bob Melvin, Xavier Nady, Conor Jackson
Drafted Players: RHP Erik Johnson (80th White Sox), SS Marcus Semien (201st White Sox), RHP Dixon Anderson (277th Nationals)
Batting Leaders: BA- .335 Tony Renda (SO, IF), HR- 7 Chad Bunting (JR, UTL), RBI- 42 Tony Renda (SO, IF)
Pitching Leaders: W- 9-6 Justin Jones (SO, LHP), ERA- 1.59 Kyle Porter (FR, LHP), K- 100 Erik Johnson (JR, RHP)
Cal, well, they stunned the college baseball world. No one expected them here, and now they are gaining the underdog fans. A well rounded team, doesn’t do anything spectacular, but they are getting the job done. They will have to battle to stay alive, the begin versus #1 overall Virginia.

Virginia Cavaliers
2011 Record: 54-10, 22-8 in ACC, 1st in Coastal Division and ACC Champions
Hosted and won both the Charlottesville Regional and Super Regional
CWS Appearances: 2 (2009, 2011) CWS Titles: 0
MLB Notables: Eppa Rixey, Ryan Zimmerman, Mark Reynolds
Drafted Players: LHP Danny Hultzen (2nd Mariners), C John Hicks (123rd Mariners), RHP Will Roberts (158th Indians), 3B Steven Proscia (213th Mariners), RHP Philip Wilson (305th Orioles), C Kenneth Swab (636th Royals), RHP Cody Winiarski (1101st White Sox)
Batting Leaders: BA- .366 David Coleman (SR, OF), HR- 8 Steven Proscia (JR, IF), RBI- 58 Steven Proscia (JR, IF)
Pitching Leaders: W- 12-3 Danny Hultzen (JR, LHP), ERA- 1.49 Danny Hultzen (JR, LHP), K- 151 Danny Hultzen (JR, LHP)
A dominant team, which has held down the nations #1 spot in the rankings the entire year, the Cavaliers are very good, but not unstoppable–but close. Hultzen leads a ridiculous pitching staff, and the offense has excellent depth. The team has experience, and talent. Only way to beat the Cavs is by jumping on the pitching staff and score–a lot. They start out with Cal.

South Carolina Gamecocks
2011 Record: 54-10, 22-8 in SEC, 2nd in SEC East Division
Hosted and won both the Columbia Regional and Super Regional
CWS Appearances: 10 (1975, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1985, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2011) CWS Titles: 1 (2010)
MLB Notables: Adam Everett, Landon Powell, Justin Smoak
Drafted Players: OF Jackie Bradley (40th Red Sox), RHP Matt Price (184th Diamondbacks), SS Peter Mooney (649th Blue Jays), OF Adam Matthews (695th Orioles), LHP Bryan Harper (907th Nationals), LHP Steven Neff (1257th Giants), LHP Jon Webb (1465th Reds)
Batting Leaders: BA- .359 Christian Walker (SO, IF), HR- 10 Christian Walker (SO, IF), RBI- 60 Christian Walker (SO, IF)
Pitching Leaders: W- 13-3 Michael Roth (JR, LHP), ERA- 1.02 Michael Roth (JR, LHP), K- 95 Michael Roth (JR, LHP)
The defending National Champs are back, complete with last years CWS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. USCeast has another strong team, also lead by pitching. The offense is even strong, leading me to think they will be hard to beat. If the Gamecock pitchers are getting outs, look out. South Carolina leads off against Texas A&M

Texas A&M Aggies
2011 Record: 47-20, 19-8 Big XII, 2nd in the Big XII
Hosted and won the College Station Regional and won the Tallahassee Super Regional
CWS Appearances: 5 (1951, 1964, 1993, 1999, 2011) CWS Titles: 0
MLB Notables: Chuck Knoblauch, Cliff Pennington
Drafted Players: RHP John Stilson (108th Blue Jays), RHP Thomas Stripling (288th Rockies), RHP Nickolas Fleece (415th Reds), RHP Adam Smith (779th Yankees), RHP Brandon Parrent (921st White Sox), C Kevin Gonzalez (1090th Astros), RHP Steven Martin (1120th Astros)
Batting Leaders: BA- .390 Tyler Naquin (SO, OF), HR- 7 Matt Juengel (JR, IF), RBI- 49 Matt Juengel (JR, IF) & Jacob House (JR, UTL)
Pitching Leaders: W- 14-2 Ross Stripling (JR, RHP), ERA- 1.68 John Stilson (JR, RHP), K- 110 Michael Wacha (SO, RHP)
The Aggies silently floated into the CWS defeating a good Florida State team to get here. The pitching staff is a strong point (surprise), but the offense may struggle at times. They are a scrappy team, almost feast or famine, but they’ve been lucky enough to feast most of the year. They will be hungry and will battle hard, starting off against the defending champs, South Carolina.

Bracket

This College World Series will definitely be interesting; it’s the first year with the new, less bouncy aluminum bats (reason for the low homerun numbers and stud pitching numbers), and the new stadium. Scores will be low and pitchers will need to stay on the mark for all 9 innings, for letting up just one big inning could hurt any of these teams.

I see it coming down to Vanderbilt and Virginia, two strong, all-around teams whose bats can sustain a long enough run to win it all. Hultzen and Gray will be the headliner pitchers, their performances the turning point of the Championship Series, but the real test will be in the 2 and 3 starters for both. Who can keep the runs off of the scoreboard. Ultimately, Virginia will win it all, the second year in a row an team wins its first title. Hultzen will become a household name for his work on the mound, and Yaz 2.0 (Mike Yastrzemski) will capture a large audience as he performs well for Vanderbilt. Virginia has been good enough to be #1 all year, and rarely do I chose that season long #1 to win it all, but UVA has been consistently too good, they’re only misstep was against Miami in the regular season (you should know me, have to plug the Canes).

Sit down and watch starting Saturday, June 16th, live on ESPN. And if you chose to watch only a little, the championship series will surely be a dandy. It’s college baseball baby, and it’s hit the boiling point–let’s get it on!

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

Banhammer Looms Over Columbus

“After meeting with university officials, we agreed that it is in the best interest of Ohio State that I resign as head football coach,” It’s over Ohio.

Jim Tressel has announced his resignation today, amid allegations of improper player benefits, and future NCAA violations. In that statement, one important word is “resign”; Tressel was not forced out. Tressel did not face a university board, or fight the Athletic Director for the chance to stay. He stepped away at his own discretion, and the university let him.

The Ohio State University has a mess to clean up, and within the next 24 hours, could have an apocalyptic mess on their hands. Kirk Herbstreit (former OSU quarterback) says Sports Illustrated has a big-time new report coming out later, and ongoing investigations by the NCAA could find more infractions. 5 players were already suspended for the first five games with more to possibly come. Now there’s no head coach and an ominous feeling of an actual judgement day in Columbus.

Jim Tressel’s resignation is the next sign in things to come for Ohio State football. Abandoning ship is a possible indication that, yes, more violations are to surface, and they are not good. Tressel has not bounced for another job elsewhere, as Dennis Erickson did in 1994, but because of the current infractions, and the possibility of more–who would have hired him yesterday, and who will hire him now? Him leaving in his own decision hurts the university, because now, the NCAA will show no mercy and come in swinging with the banhammer and take care of business. In investigations such as these, universities that self-report and self-enforce violations see some grace from the NCAA, but OSU has stepped way beyond that.

E-mails have been reported documenting Jim Tressel’s knowledge of player wrongdoing months before the allegations were even public. 5 Ohio State football players traded gear for tattoo’s and money, and to be revealed later, possibly a whole slew of more illegal activities. “Tat5”, as they are affectionately called, includes star quarterback Terrell Pryor, running back Noah Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, starting left tackle Mike Adams and backup defensive end Soloman Thomas. Tressel has also coached problems such as Maurice Clarett, Ray Small and Troy Smith. And that is only what has been uncovered in investigations so far. Tressel dug his own grave by not taking action after receiving those e-mail reports–evidence that he had knowledge of players receiving improper benefits. He took no action, and now the school will suffer from it.

So what’s in store for Ohio State now? The most intense, mind-numbing waiting game, as more and more reports will come out of violations, with serious penalties awaiting the program. Will OSU see the death penalty? There’s a chance; the penalties could be similar to USC’s two year postseason ban, vacated wins and one Heisman Trophy, and a loss of 30 scholarships, 10 per year over 3 years. But USC reported its infractions to the NCAA and put an initial ban on itself; the NCAA set a new sanction, and as harsh as it is, that was bestowed upon USC with mercy. The NCAA should not show any mercy to The Ohio State University.

This is also a chance for the NCAA to redeem themselves, after they suspended the Tat5 for only five games, yet suspended Dez Bryant for an entire season. Bryant spent a day with a non-Oklahoma State alumni, Deion Sanders. They worked out and talked, and nothing more came of it; only because Bryant didn’t report it, was it a violation. The Tat5 sold and traded championship rings, game used gear and even awards for tattoo’s. This has been clearly documented and is illegal in the fact that these players are receiving improper benefits, such as goods and services at a reduced price, against NCAA law. Wha-? How? C’mon NCAA. Terrell Pryor, the star Buckeye quarterback, elected to stay in school for his senior year by request of Tressel. Sweatervest is now gone, and Pryor has to spend the next year in Columbus in a suspension riddled disaster zone in Ohio. There is the NFL Supplemental Draft, but it’s not like there’s a season to be played there–but that’s a whole different topic. The fallout in Columbus should be extreme as some current players will transfer out, recent high school signings will opt out of their letters of intent. Were the tattoos worth it?

News coverage of Tressel’s resignation has shown there are plenty of supporters of Tressel and what he has done; albeit most are Ohio State people. Praise is dumped on the coach and people are acting shocked. But news of possible scandal has been out for a while. One could not ignore the fact that Tressel was soon to be on his way out. Newsflash: Jim Tressel is not squeaky clean. He isn’t very clean at all. Desmond Howard had a good point suggesting Tressel was not acting in the best interest of the school, he was out to protect his winning percentage. If he had done what was expected, what was right, what was logical to his job, he’d still be employed. Instead he’s hurting players, the university and himself. His ass-backward way of protecting himself with cover-ups and secrecy ended his reign at Ohio State.

For those calling Urban Meyer or any other successful coach to Columbus, Ohio, keep dreaming. Meyer likes to lay and spread the dirt, and the filth has already consumed the Buckeyes. But in the next 3-5 Meyer will be a coaching candidate, and start a brand new mess. Other coaches will laugh at the offer once NCAA sanctions come out. Luke Fickell was slated to be the acting head coach while Tressel served his five game ban, but looks like Fickell will be on top of a dying program as interim for a year. Good luck Luke. Bo Pelini of Nebraska is building something special in Lincoln, in Ohio State’s conference. Gary Patterson’s been running train on the country with TCU and his move was with his team–to the Big East, an automatic-qualifying BCS conference. His departure from Fort Worth is unlikely. And for these three, purely hypothetical candidates, NCAA sanctions are not a situation they want to be moving into; they’re doing quiet well at their own schools, and Meyer, well he’s already got one university wallowing in his wake as he praises Timmy Tebow on TV. If the penalties are as severe as predicted, it will be a few years before Ohio State can win again. Will Ohio State ever recover? Will their stuck up fans realize the Sweatervest has ruined their program?

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage